Saudi Arabia: Can a Saudi have a Simple Life?

For a Saudi, whether living within or out of Saudi Arabia, life can be compared to living in a fishbowl at many times.  What do I mean by that?  What a Saudi does or how a Saudi acts is watched closely by other Saudis.  A Saudi has to be conscious of what he or she says or does as that will reflect not only on the Saudi but on the extended family.

There are all kind of “watchers” in Saudi Arabia.  The muttawa are probably the most overt of the watchers.  It is their official responsibility to prevent vice and protect morality.  As a result they are openly seen in the malls, shopping centers, outside of grocery stores and many other places known to have large gatherings of society.

The other “watchers” are comprised of peers, friends, family and the others in Saudi society.  Saudis can be judged by other Saudis by the way they wear their clothes, the way they walk or the way they talk.

I remember from my own personal experiences my own dear husband chastising me if I innocently and spontaneous reached out for his hand or touched his arm when we were out shopping if I wanted to show him something.  “Don’t do that!” He’d caution me.  “People are watching and will think you are a loose woman.”

I asked him why did it matter what others thought.  Most of them were unknown to us.  He told me that you never knew who could be watching, especially of the women who were veiled.  They could recognize us and form negative impressions that would make its way back to family besides tarnishing the family name.

Many times he’d ask me to cover my head while we were in the car if there was a lot of congested traffic around us for fear that someone who knew him would see us.  Not everyone in the extended family were in support of choosing to not wear a hijjab.  He also said that society would view us as more respectable.

By the same token, the many times we were outside of Saudi Arabia, it was common for my husband and other Saudis to express with joy how they felt free.  It was in no way meant to be against Saudi Arabia.  All these individuals are and were proud of their nationality and their country. But at those times, it would be my husband who would take the initiative to hold my hand as we walked through a shopping center.

Many times, I would hear a Saudi express “If I only had a simple life.”  My husband was among those.  I believe my husband meant that he wanted a life where he did not worry about perceptions of others.  He wanted to feel comfortable to say whatever he thought without a fear of repercussion if overheard by the wrong individual.  He did not want to fear a challenge by the muttawa if he was with me who chose not to cover her head.  He wanted to be comfortable and relaxed wherever he was and not only within the confines of his home or outside of the Kingdom.

I’d like to hear from other Saudis and what is their view of a simple life.

Saudi Arabia: Interviews and Upcoming Topics

I want to thank EVERYONE for all the great responses in my earlier requests for interviews!  I also need to ask those of you who have yet to receive interview questions from me to forgive me.  I am working on individualized questions for each individual based on location, nationality and situation.  If I am allowed to say so, I believe I have some very interesting interviews forthcoming from Saudis both within and outside the Kingdom and other expatriates too with their unique stories to share as well.

So this leads me to a question.  I typically feature two interviews per month.  However, I have found according to my blog statistics, that interviews are also among the most popular of topics.  Do you, as readers of my blog, wish to receive more interviews per month?

Additionally since it is near the end of the month, what kind of topics would you like to see me write about for the month of August?  I already have some written as I tend to do so but I take your requests seriously.  After all, if you did not follow my blog, there really would not be a reason for me to keep writing.

I thank each and everyone of you for your contributions and following.

Carol (American Bedu)

Project – Bring Carol’s Cats Home – Update

Day-3: We have reached our goal. See article.

Day-2: We have reached the 2/3rd mark in 2 days. Does anyone see a pattern here :)

Some interesting news of support:

- Blogger Aafke of Cloudragon posted on the fund drive with a unique offer. She will send a special painting 6″ x 8″ , with the subject of your choice, for anyone who donates $50 or more to the project (retroactive). The details can be found by clicking on her post here.

- The website this dish is veg featured Carol’s story and the fund drive on the site.

Day-1: Thanks for all the contributors so far, we have reached the 1/3 mark in collecting the funds necessary to complete the fund drive in less than 24 hours.

We appreciate your continued support.

Donations closed as we have reached our goal

Saudi Arabia – The Baby Muslimah

Sometimes you may simply see a photo and just want to share it.  This one touched my heart and showed me a much loved and a happy baby muslimah.  What does the photo say to you?

Project – Bring Carol’s Cats Home

As many of you know, Carol has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She had been away from the blog for a few days to conduct new rounds of tests. As a result she will be going through additional aggressive treatments, which will require rest and visits to hospitals. She is in good spirits considering the situation.

Carol is also very dedicated to this blog and had written a few articles ahead of time to keep providing us with interesting articles about Saudi and her experiences.

The regular readers of the blog know that Carol had to leave Saudi in short notice to take care of her late husband Abdullah during his Leukemia treatment in the US. Carol left her cats in Saudi Arabia and has not been united with them for 18 months now. We all know how dear those cats are to Carol and bringing them to her will bring her joy and lift her spirits  as she faces the challenges of her treatment.

A couple of friends and I started a project to Bring Carol’s Cats Home. We have inquired on the cost of shipping the cats to North Carolina. The costs will be $1600. We have collected a few donations from friends, but we are still short of the goal. I know some of you have known Carol through her blog for years and may wish to help in this effort. We have setup a Paypal account, which can receive donations either through Paypal or credit card to help raise the funds.

I am asking for the readers who can assist  in this effort to donate by clicking the link at the bottom of this write up. I will keep regular checks on the account and will close it as soon as we reach the goal. I will also keep everyone informed about progress through regular comments.

Donations closed as we have reached our goal

Thank you for your kindness,

Blog Moderator

Saudi Arabia: The Jerusalem Post take on the Mahrem System

I am not an advocate of the Saudi Mahrem (male guardian system) for women.  According to a recent poll on American Bedu’s blog, the majority of readers are not in favor of the mahrem system either.  However I do take umbrage when the mahrem system is misquoted such as in the Jerusalem post.  I guess I should not be surprised for it is certainly not the first time it has happened; I’ve even been misquoted in the past from this publication.

While I agree with many points of the Jerusalem post article in that it condones the mahrem system, the facts need to be straight.  According to the article, Saudi women “are not allowed to drive, inherit, divorce or gain custody of children; and cannot enter most public spaces without a male guardian.”

To begin with, it is against the law for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, period.  Even if a male mahrem said it was okay to drive, that does not mean the law can be circumvented.  Thereby even the wording of the statement in the article is misleading.

Saudi women can inherit.  In fact it is clearly stated within the Quran on how assets and inheritances are to be divided.  I have widowed women within my own extended Saudi family and they have inherited their share and in some cases, even more.

Saudi women can certainly get divorces.  Divorces between Saudi couples have increased in Saudi Arabia and many of the divorces were initiated by the woman instead of the man.

Gaining custody of children does depend on the husband as otherwise children of divorced couples do go to the father.

Where the writer got the idea that women cannot enter MOST public spaces without a male guardian is beyond me.  The women in my own extended Saudi family, Saudi female friends and colleagues all routinely went to public places on their own.  These places included the numerous shopping malls, grocery stores, hospitals, parks and more.

Last but not least the supposed thrust of the article seems to be how Saudi Arabia has chosen to use today’s technology to further track the activities of women.  For example, if a Saudi woman boards an international flight without a mahrem, then a text message (SMS) is sent to her mahrem advising him of her travel. I’d not heard of this before but it could be a new system in place.  I’ll give that statement the benefit of the doubt although it does seem odd and makes you wonder how an airline would have and know that specific data.  Just ask anyone who has routinely traveled in and out of Saudi’s airports or on Saudi airlines.

However, many women do need to have documents from their mahrem which provide concurrence to travel unaccompanied.  Because I had an American passport, I was not subjected to any questions or difficulties when traveling by myself.  Yet when another female family member came to the USA unaccompanied when my husband was receiving medical treatment, we had to arrange documentation for her travel.

In closing this article, I implore representatives of official media avenues to not mislead or print false information.  This applies to all media and not only the Jerusalem post.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Men, Foreign Women and Responsibilities of Marriage

Just when you think you’ve finally heard everything on the challenges and cons of Saudi men who marry foreigners, you get articles which pop up like these ones in Arab News and the Saudi Gazette.  Both of these are pretty much the same except with some slight differences.  Between the two articles the following Saudi officials have either spoken out against Saudis marriage to foreigners or expressed high concern:

Nizar Al-Saleh, Assistant Secretary-General of the National Center for Research on Youth at King Saud University: marriage to foreign women is not advisable for those who are seeking a stable family life.

Saleh Al-Khathlan, Vice President of the National Society for Human Rights: The government will not accept such marriage contracts and the foreign wives will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom.

Abdul Aziz Al-Ghareeb, a sociologist from Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University: Such marriages result in Saudis getting deadly diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis. Children from such marriages may also suffer from diseases such as autism and paralysis.

Ali Al-Hanaki, adviser to Awasir, an organization that looks after Saudis abroad (Society for the Welfare of Saudi Families Abroad), highlighted his society’s efforts in solving problems faced by such Saudi families.  Foreign women sought marriage to Saudis in order to obtain Saudi nationality, and not to build a family or married life. Some couples married abroad have contagious diseases, and illnesses like Aids, hepatitis and venereal diseases. Studies have shown that Saudi men may be led into marriage with women who are already married or work in prostitution. Saudis should turn to Saudi girls for marriage as that would also solve the problem of unmarried Saudi women, while we should also make things easier for our sons in terms of costs.

Towfik Al-Suwalem, Chairman of Awasir’s Board of Directors, referred to his Organization’s efforts to correct the legal status of such families by proving the legality of their marriages.  Yet after stating how Awasir can help, Al-Suwalem is then quoted as “We would like to present a study on the repercussions of foreign marriages on Saudi society and urged the media to enlighten the public on the negative effects of such marriages.”

So there we have the National Center for Research on Youth at King Saudi University, National Society for Human rights, Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saudi Islamic University and Awasir all speaking out against Saudi marriages to foreigners.  I cannot imagine these entities speaking out without the sanction of the Government of Saudi Arabia such as the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which are imperative Ministries involved in marriages of Saudis to foreigners.

I have difficulty understanding why a country let alone a country’s government be so involved in who can or cannot marry whom!  For a Muslim country, attempting to place such control over marriages is not Islamic.  Furthermore the reasons identified pertaining to the risks of such marriages are pretty farfetched if not downright preposterous!  What kind of an educated Saudi is going to believe that marriage to a foreigner may cause the birth of an autistic or paralyzed child?  How can an educated professor be allowed to make such an outrageous statement which portrays Saudi Arabia as backwards, uneducated and, well, I hate to say it but ridiculous!  Wouldn’t it be better just to have those individuals make a case choosing better words with logic instead of attempting to make them look like the back end of a donkey?  Saudis are not stupid.  Even those who question have access to professionals and to the internet.

What do YOU think?  I’m asking not only of the message which the article sends but the statements which have been made.

I also think the many comments which have been made to the article in Arab News are worth reading as well.

link for comments to Arab News article:

And yes, I posted my own point of view on Arab News but I’ll have to wait and see if my comment was published.  I’m well known for saying exactly what I think…in addition to having had a beautiful marriage with a Saudi man.

Saudi Arabia: The Tribal Tree

Conducting monthly interviews with individuals in Saudi Arabia or interested in Saudi Arabia have led to many pleasant virtual friendships from around the world.  Earlier this month, American Bedu had the opportunity to interview Behzad, who is an American working in the educational sector in Al Jouf. He was kind enough to share this recent interesting photo he had taken of the “Tribal Tree” and gave me permission in turn to share it with American Bedu followers.

How though does one define and understand what makes up the tribal tree?  Anthropologist Donald Cole explains that “four to six patrilineally related lineages are grouped together in a clan (seven clans comprise the Al Murrah tribe). However the subdivisions of a tribe are defined, they are formed by adding larger and larger groups of patrilineally related kin. The system permits lineages to locate themselves relative to all other groups on a “family tree.”

He further adds that marriages and divorces increase the number of possible kin to whom an individual can trace a link and, concomitantly, of the ways in which one can view potential alliances and genealogical relationships.

Can you imagine though what the tribal tree would like look for King Saud bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud who had 110 children – 57 girls and 53 boys?  One Arab who is an expert on Family Tribal Trees is Ali Mohammed Al-Matroushi, a historian and expert in Arab genealogy.

In the times of nomadic tribes, says Mr al Matroushi, the only way travelers could introduce themselves was through their oral connection to a particular tribe; back then, geographical location meant little.

“Whose son or daughter you were determined your status in the tribe as well as your reputation when you travelled and left your tribe,” he says.

“This tradition of judging someone based on their family still exists today, and is not fair as within the same family you can have a bad apple that ruins the reputation of the entire family.”

One of the biggest problems associated with tracing Arab ancestry is that “they never put the women into the family tree, and so we have lost a lot of information because of that”, he says. Children of the slaves, however, were included, although recorded differently from the children born to the wives of the free men.

According to genetic theory the entire human race came from one man and one woman, labeled as “Adam” and “Eve.”

Saudi Arabia: Teaching Saudi Students

American Bedu had an email exchange with a language teacher who routinely teaches Saudi students.  She shared her experiences of how she interacts with them and also asked some questions, which American Bedu answered in italics.  This teacher gave her permission for the exchange to be posted on the blog to help others who may be teaching English to Saudi students and to also encourage others to share their experiences.  This is the prime time of the year when many Saudi students will be traveling to differing parts of the world for studies and many of the students will undergo a one or two year English language program before starting their University studies.

I’m a single woman and I teach English at a private language school, and because I teach the beginner’s class, most of my students are Saudi Arabian men.  (Other nationalities already have some English).  We have students from all around the world who come to learn English here, but our three major nationalities are Koreans, Brazilians and Saudis.  So I have met hundreds of Saudi men over the 2 and a half years I’ve been teaching them, and I really want to be able to understand them better.

Generally, I really enjoy teaching them, and have a lot of fun with them.  I’ve found that I really love their sense of humour.  We laugh a lot!  Their sense of humour seems to involve a lot of teasing, and a bit of silliness too, the same as my sense of humour.  What have you found about that?  How would you compare their humour with American humour?  Did you laugh a lot with them?
Yes, Saudis do enjoy teasing and with silliness.  I think their humor is more “clean” than some of the American humor.  I’ve had many laughs with them.
The majority of them are good students who respect me.  But some of them can be difficult, and I’m always nervous when I get new students that they may be difficult ones.  These are the main negative things I’ve observed about them.  I would be interested to hear your comments.  I’d really like to understand better what it is about their culture and thinking that makes them this way.

- They are always late, but this doesn’t really bother me too much, and I’ve figured out ways to handle this.  We have 3 breaks in our morning class which gives them 4 opportunities to be late.  So I don’t let them in if they are more than 10 minutes late and this works.  I don’t generally mind them being late if all of my class is Saudi – it gives me a longer break and it’s their money they are wasting.  It’s only really a problem if there are other nationalities in the class who are always on time then we are waiting for the Saudis.  The other thing I do is before they are allowed to sit down is I make them apologize in correct English, and they have to get it right at least once before they are allowed to sit down.  Eg “I’m sorry I’m late because I was smoking.”  I wouldn’t do this to someone who was shy, for example a Japanese student, because they would be mortified.  But Saudis aren’t the slightest bit worried about being put on the spot, or even looking silly in front of the class.
You have discovered “Saudi time.”  I think your way of dealing with the lateness in the classroom environment is superb.

The other rules I really enforce are: no mobile phones which I enforce by asking them all personally if their phone is off, and are they sure it’s off, and getting them to show me if I don’t believe them.  And no Arabic in class.  This is pretty difficult to enforce if they are mostly all Saudis, but if they speak Arabic I give them their homework and send them out of the class for 5 minutes.  They always protest but I don’t back down and this does seem to really work, and stop them from speaking Arabic.
The mobile phones can always be a problem.  While many dislike it, sometimes they even need to be collected at the beginning of a class.  All speaking Arabic is problematic and again, I think you are handling that well.
–  A lot of them seem really unmotivated and lazy, and completely uninterested in learning.  They seem to be very spoilt and pampered, and don’t really need to learn anything because they’re just going to work for their father anyway, who is usually some kind of businessman.  Thankfully at the moment I have 10 Saudis who are all good and keen to learn.
That is very typical.  ):

- They are often not very good at thinking for themselves whenever I give them written exercise where they have to work on their own.  They want me to tell them the answers, or someone else to tell them the answers, they don’t want to actually think.  When I do get a Saudi who will sit there and work through the exercises on his own I’m so impressed.
Sadly this is likely due to the culture and the educational system.  The educational system has been rote memorization for many years.  Secondly many Saudis are accustomed to cajoling answers from others and particularly expat teachers.

- They are very demanding.  Recently one of them told me that it’s rude to cut in on an elder when he is speaking.  But this clearly does not imply in class, and not with their female teacher!  They all demand my attention at once.  For example I am talking to one student, but three others are crying out “teacher!  Teacher!  Teacher!”  And don’t stop until I answer them.  And they always try to cut in when I’m speaking.  This doesn’t bother me too much if they are generally otherwise good students.
They will not cut in on an elder when speaking but that is usually a man or woman who is similar in age to their parents or grandparents.  Otherwise it is common for them to interrupt, talk loudly as well as over one another.
– A lot of them cheat in their weekly tests, and if they’ve been absent they will never tell me the truth (eg I just didn’t want to come to school), they always come up with some sort of excuse.
That is likely due to the culture.
What are your experiences of these things?

There are some other things I’m wondering.  In their culture, are they willing to take the blame and admit when they are wrong?  Or is this considered extremely shameful?
There is not a pat answer on this one.  Much depends on who and what.
What things are loss of face for them?  Is a woman telling them off loss of face?  I always think that surely Saudi women must be hot-blooded and strong-minded and surely they are used to their mothers telling them off and bossing them around.  So I think of myself as their mother (even though I’m not that much older than most of them) and that works for me.
A woman telling them off is a loss of face or at least pride.  A Saudi woman may do so but usually in private, never with a group.  If you are not too much older than them, then that can be viewed as a challenge to some of them.
Some people say that Saudi men regard all uncovered women as prostitutes, and up for the taking.  What do you think about that?  If it is true, what percentage of them do you think would be like that?  I’m happy to say, most of them don’t seem sleazy to me.  Most of them look at my face, and don’t stare at my body.
Some Saudi men do think that woman are up for grabs but also much depends on the woman too.  If she dresses modestly and is in her country, she should be treated respectfully.  In Saudi Arabia many Saudi men feel western woman are fair game based on all the propoganda and b-grade movies on tv.  It would be viewed as very rude for them to stare at your body.

When we do have other nationalities in our class, and girls, they never have any idea about Saudi culture, and often the girls innocently touch the Saudi men.  Particularly south American girls will constantly touch the Saudi men while they are talking to them.  I know it’s completely forbidden in Saudi for them to ever touch women.  Some Saudis respond to the girls by touching them in the same way (on the arm, etc).  Sometimes I see them even kissing South American or European girls on both cheeks as the girls do in their culture, and I quite like seeing that.  Other times I’m not too comfortable with them touching women, and I’m not comfortable when they touch me (for example putting their arm around me when taking a photo with me).  I generally try not to ever touch them.  What are your thoughts about that? I wonder if I should take the girls aside and tell them not to touch the Saudis.
I would suggest mentioning privately to female students from other cultures that it is viewed as a cultural no-no to touch a Saudi man.  This is so the Saudi does not mis-perceive the woman’s intentions.  I’m glad that some of the Saudis are demonstrating a polite worldliness but I don’t think it is a good habit to encourage.  Especially as a teacher, I think it is wiser to remain a little conservative.

Saudi Arabia: Iman Shares Her Experience

American Bedu’s interviews have been a popular subject of interest on the blog.  This is a candid interview with Iman, a  woman, who does not hold back on her experiences and feelings. She continues to go through a state of flux as she processes these experiences and changes in her life.  American Bedu thanks her profusely for her forwardness and asks that all who read this interview show sensitivity and respect to someone who has come forward and given us a rare gift of such frank openness on subjects that typically remain closed and silent.

You call your blog ”A time for me to talk”, and yourself a ”free Saudi woman”. How did you feel about growing up in Saudi Arabia?

My feelings about growing up in Saudi are quite mixed and quite confusing to be honest with you. It was not my choice to live, go to school or grow up in Saudi. Like many, my family moved there and thus so did I. Looking back at it all now, and especially now that I am living my life the way I want it and that I am years removed from that life, my anger is not as intense and neither is my fear. Had you asked me this same question a few years back I would probably have said that it was a life of terror and a pure taste of hell. I would still describe my life there as an experience I would not want to subject myself to ever again and certainly would not wish it upon any other human being none the less a growing child.

You come from a polygamous marriage, do you think polygamy makes for a stable relationship between your mother and father, and between you and your father? Would you want to be in a polygamous marriage yourself? Did you have half siblings and if so, did you have a good relationship to them? Did you consider polygamy for yourself?

Yes, my father married another woman, while he was married to my mother, when I was 16 years old. “Stable” is not a word I would place within a 100 meters of the word Polygamy. It is almost funny to call it “polygamy” since I never even knew what that meant till I moved to Canada. I thought that it was every man’s God given right to marry as many women as he pleased and divorce as many as he pleased regardless.

I cannot speak for anyone but myself and I can only comment and reflect on my own experiences but when my father married his second wife, he did not seek our approval nor did he care what we had to say. We, being my mother myself and my brother.

He did what the norm called for in a country like Saudi, and that was to do what he wanted and how he wanted to do it. Respecting my mother and my wishes was unheard of. I recall him telling me “If you or anybody stands in my way I will crush you.” He said this to me after my mother left to Egypt and I was having a hard time accepting this new life I was being forced into with another woman living in my house.

So, after my mother left to go live in Egypt and a good 10 years into their marriage, my dad and his new wife had 2 girls whom I love dearly and sadly have not seen in over 3-4 years. I am told they do not remember me. They just know they have a sister in Canada called Iman.

It is ironic you should ask if I would want to be in a polygamist marriage. I was married once before to a Saudi man who went and married his first cousin as a second wife 2 months into our own marriage. Needless to say, that ended up in divorce and thankfully I was in Canada at the time, so it was not as hard, though he did do his best to make it that way.
Did it bother you that you were not allowed as much freedom as a man? or did you think this was natural and reasonable?

I never understood why my brother could do certain things, like travel abroad alone, while I was prohibited from the same. Mother always tried to explain things to me but they just never made any sense. That, unfortunately, only harboured anger, hate and resentment on my part. I saw it as preferential treatment from my parents. Then I started seeing the bigger picture as I grew older. I saw that the entire society I lived in preferred man to woman. Men had power over women. Women depended on men for so many things it was actually quite alarming.

Silly little things I could not do without a man. I felt like a shadow of a human. I was crippled by a society that seemed to hate women and kept us on a tight leash. Why? I would always ask and the answers were so disappointing and so full of crap.

Of course, this just added insult to injury as I grew into an angry young woman who hated who she was, where she lived and everything around here. I became obsessed with everything my society prohibited me to do.

I drove cars, I dated boys, I drank, had sex, did drugs, traveled alone and uncovered my hair and face in public. You name it …I did it.

So, is it natural or reasonable to suppress one gender while empowering the other? My answer is no. People quote the Quran, God, the prophet, this and that but these are manmade rules and regulations.

No divine power or spirit would request or allow such an imbalance of life and the general insult to humanity that Saudi Arabia has managed to set as a rule and claimed it to be the way of God.

Spending your youth in Saudi Arabia, do you think you had a good childhood?

Depends on what good means I guess. I lived in a 4 level Villa with 4 nannies and a driver. We had a new car in our garage every 6 months or so and it usually was a top of the line make and model. We traveled to Europe, Asia and the states every year.

I made money, and lots of it, once I started working and I went shopping almost every day.

I always wore the best clothes and the most expensive jewellery and makeup. I went to parties, the best schools and then became a doctor.

On the opposite side of things, I was abused on a daily basis (mostly physically, mentally and emotionally) by mother, father, and brother and eventually step mother. I was forced into medical school. I feared going out because I might get captured by the religious police for doing this, that or the other…or for just being female. I got harassed by sex driven men every single time I went out.

I had to reside with the fact that I most likely will never get married because I was a doctor and had to do night shifts at the hospital (which apparently only meant I was sleeping with men.)

Then I had to deal with living the double life that almost every other Saudi lives. Praying in front of other, fasting, mentioning God 10000 times in my speech and then going home talking to boys on the phone and going out to mixed parties…etc.

It was quite the conflicting life! Enough to leave the greatest of minds puzzled.

Have you ever been confronted by the religious police?

My confrontations with the religious police were endless. I was captured by them twice, both times ended with me being kidnapped and thrown in jail. The best place to read about my encounters with them would be my blog

We have heard many stories of Saudi youth managing to meet up even given the strict rules of segregation. Did you ever attempt such an adventure?

Oh yes, I certainly did. Just like my friends did and their friends did. I recall going to parties at different embassies in the diplomatic quarter. These parties were on a Hollywood scale it was almost surreal. Women and men, alcohol, music and dancing…it was a nice good refreshing break I was able to get every now and then from the intense rigid and fixed lifestyle rules I had to live with back then.

I think I had a new boyfriend every one year or so and yes, I went out with them on secret dates. The adrenaline rush, the danger and the thrill of it all was so much worth it back then. Had I known then what I know now, I would have changed many of my immature actions that eventually lead me to a catastrophic event.

You got a scholarship to study in Canada, were you excited or apprehensive to go to a foreign country alone and on your own? Did you still cover in the Saudi Abaya and veil?

Ever since I can remember it was a dream of mine to study abroad and adapt the western lifestyle. I would stand in front my bedroom mirror and go through all these amazing scenarios of what I would do during my travels to Canada and what I would say when I met certain people or encountered a specific situation. I would even go and get my wardrobe out and change my clothes according to the imaginary situation I was living. I was so young and my dreams were so big.

Since I had no choice in my medical career I made sure I chose the one medical specialty that would have guaranteed me a scholarship to Canada. Anaesthesia it was!

I applied for my scholarship and worked hard to pass all the Canadian evaluating exams and I did. 2 years later, I was granted to the approval. Sadly, at that point the catastrophe I was referring to earlier had occurred and though it seemed that my dreams were never going to come true, they eventually did.

While on your scholarship you were assaulted by another Saudi Student. How did the Canadian authorities treat you and your case? What was the punishment for the assaulter. Did the hospital where you worked offer you counseling? What happened to the Saudi man? What was the response from the Saudi authorities to this assault regarding you and the perpetrator?
Did your family support you?

This tragedy is what led me to eventually abandon medicine. During my second year of Anesthesia residency training I was sexually assaulted by another – Saudi- Anesthesia resident during a resident retreat gathering. I knew this person from the hospital that sponsored us for the scholarship program back in Saudi. We were Anesthesia residents there as well.

The actual attack took place in a cottage – where the retreat was being held. It was the winter of 2004…it was a day I will never be able to forget. Once it happened, he informed me that he had planned it. I stayed in shock for weeks.

It was a good month before I spoke of it to my department members. I was called into a meeting with the program director and told that I had to go to the police. When I said no, they presumed it was all a big lie and simply ignored me.

I should probably explain why I refused to go to the police at the time. As many people would support the argument that if I was indeed assaulted in such a manner then I would not have thought twice about going to the Canadian authorities.

Back then, I was a Saudi who was only here on a work permit for my scholarship. I was fully funded by the Saudis and thus they controlled every move I made. Not sure how much people know about Saudi but to keep it simple I can tell you women have no rights there. I actually do not even know how I ended up getting a scholarship?!

Women are ordered by law to cover from head to toe in order not to attract men. If men harass us anywhere or in any shape or form we are punished by going to jail or getting lashed. Women in Saudi are not allowed to drive a car, travel on their own without a male guardian or permission from one. We are not allowed to enter government offices, and the time we had no I.D even.

So, knowing all that and having been in trouble with the Saudi authorities in the past I was fully aware of what the outcome would be if they got news of what was going on. I knew that without a second though my scholarship and funding would both be terminated and that I would be ordered to return to Saudi…shamed.

Meanwhile, and while I was trying to digest my assault and what action to take next. The Anesthesia program director ignored all my requests of not to be scheduled with the guy who attacked me. I became isolated and people avoided me because I was simply a trouble maker and a liar.

My attacker continued to corner me and harass me whenever he got the chance at work and I became the boy who cried wolf.

This went on for another 3 years during which my mental status deteriorated significantly to the point where I was making serious errors at work. My supervisors at work hated me. They were harsh and failed me rotation after rotation. They gave me awful evaluations and no one ever asked why? And are you ok?

In 2007 I went on an extended leave and finally reported my case to the police because I had simply failed to thrive in life. I also wrote a detailed letter to the head of the Saudi Bureau in Ottawa explaining exactly what happened with dates and times. Two weeks later I got a letter of termination from the Saudi Bureau where they told me that I had to return my scholarship money back to them (200,000) and that my funding will be stopped.

And here we are today 2010…my case against the hospital, my attacker and the Saudi bureau remain opened and in limbo in between the human rights commission and the police.

My family offered nothing to me in the form of support. I do not think they believe me and if they did they just do not care. After all, I am a whore…

You still reside in Canada, are you planning to return to Saudi Arabia?

Though life is hard right now, yes, I do live in Canada with absolutely no plans to ever go to Saudi for any reason. I have actually looked into renouncing my Saudi citizenship but, far be it from a country like Saudi to give its citizens the right to do something like that.

You are now married and have children, as your husband is not Saudi they will not be eligible for Saudi citizenship, does that bother you? Do you want your children to visit Saudi Arabia?

I do not think my husband would want the Saudi citizenship. Nor would we want it for our children. We are all Canadians, free and have full rights. Why would I give that up for the nightmare of Saudi citizenship where they govern everything you do from how you dress to who you marry and what religion and nationality everyone has to be?!

You have been very resilient and very courageous dealing with many troubles. You are also very courageous in sharing your story with the world. Would you consider writing a book?

I crossed paths here with a documentary producer who was very interested in my story for both a T.V documentary as well as a book. Sadly, funding fell through and we parted ways. But to answer your question, yes. I wrote my blog to simply tell my story and share it with those who think they are alone. I would always welcome an opportunity to further address the injustice that was practiced on me and is being practiced still on many other Saudis.

Have you been getting responses from Saudis on your blog? And did they support you or denounce you? If you have been threatened, do you worry about it?

I have had a little bit of both actually. I have made some good friends through my blog and I have made some enemies. I recall one comment saying “Now I know where all the Saudi trash ends up…in Canada”.

I lived a good 28 years of my life being threatened, suppressed and mortified, not any more.

Are you in contact with your family in Saudi Arabia at this time?
I hear from them once every 3 years or so. Usually it is either an insult or something they need. I wish them well though.


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